Wizards catch the Heat at a bad time
MIAMI - The timing perhaps couldn't have been worse for the Washington Wizards to face the Miami Heat for the first time.
They arrived at American Airlines Arena with starters John Wall and Al Thornton sidelined, and center JaVale McGee was reduced to a reserve role when he woke up Monday morning with excruciating pain in his lower back. Adding to their precarious situation, the Wizards were facing a seemingly dysfunctional yet dangerous team in desperate need of a win.
The end result was a predictable 105-94 loss in which the Wizards succumbed to frustration and attrition. Andray Blatche had a team-high 26 points and Gilbert Arenas had 23, but the duo couldn't contend with the all-star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who took turns having their way with a banged-up and undermanned team.
"Both teams were beat up and in demand" of a win, Arenas said after the Wizards (5-11) lost their third game in a row and opened the season with eight consecutive road losses for the first time since 2006-07. "We fought. They fought a little bit harder."
The Heat also fought a tad smarter, as the Wizards ended the night short another player, as Hilton Armstrong was ejected after committing a flagrant foul penalty two on Heat reserve center Joel Anthony with 32.3 seconds remaining in the third quarter and the Wizards trailing by 12 points. In less than three minutes after Armstrong's hard foul, the Heat expanded their lead to 92-72 when James Jones buried a three-pointer from the left corner.
Armstrong started in place of McGee, who was ailing after absorbing a shove from Philadelphia's Elton Brand in an almost identical play last week. Brand received a one-game suspension for his actions and the Wizards will likely be without Armstrong when the Wizards face the Toronto Raptors on the road on Wednesday.
"I wasn't really trying to hurt him or anything like that. I just didn't want him to have an easy dunk - no easy layups. I clearly saw he lost balance in the air and I didn't mean to hit him that hard and he fell," Armstrong said. "I felt like we was still in the game. I was a little upset about that."
Armstrong was screaming for someone to match up with Heat guard Mario Chalmers, who was open in the corner. Chalmers eventually got the pass and drove baseline before flipping the ball to Anthony for what would've been an uncontested dunk. Armstrong ran over to Anthony and shoved him from the air. He attempted to help Anthony back up, but former Wizard Juwan Howard immediately rushed in to push Armstrong on the ground, which led to an automatic ejection for him as well.
"I think at that point, our guys got frustrated," Coach Flip Saunders said of Armstrong's foul.
The tensions didn't die down for either team, as Kirk Hinrich used his elbow to get separation from Jones in the fourth quarter, leading to both players being assessed technical fouls as they were separated. "He was all over me," Hinrich said. "I was trying to get space because I didn't want to turn the ball over because I felt like I was about to travel. I wasn't trying to hurt him or anything. I guess he took exception to it."
The Heat (10-8) was looking to get right after stumbling to a disappointing start, including losses in four of its past five games. The sputtering led to speculation about player dissatisfaction with Coach Erik Spoelstra. Wade, James and Bosh also led a players' only meeting that probably should've meant trouble for the Wizards. The last time they arrived in town to face a team that just had a players' only meeting, the Wizards got trounced by 20 points on Thanksgiving in Atlanta.
Alonzo Gee made his second start of the season, and it was a special moment for the native of Riviera Beach, Fla., as he got to play in front of nearly 20 family members and friends for the first time in his career. Although he grew up in South Florida, Gee said he had never been to American Airlines Arena to see a Heat game.
Gee was immediately presented the challenge of guarding James. James scored 20 of his game-high 30 points in the first half, with the Wizards unable to provide much resistance. Gee was later forced to sit after picking up a flagrant foul on Bosh late in the fourth quarter.
Wade struggled from the field in the first half, as he missed 6 of 7 attempts, including a dunk and point-blank layup. But he also handed out three assists, connecting with James for a beautiful alley-oop lob that gave the Heat a 46-37 lead.
Wade erupted for 22 of his 26 in the second half, relentlessly driving to the basket and stepping back to hit jumpers. Bosh added 20 points and seven rebounds for the Heat.
"Their big three kind of carried them," Hinrich said.
Nick Young scored 13 points and McGee had 10 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots before fouling out for the Wizards. "We really needed a win, too. We really don't care about them needing a win," Armstrong said. "We definitely could beat them. I know next time we get them, I know I feel confident, I'm pretty sure the team feels confident, feel like we could've got this one. Next time, we're going to be better. I think we're going to get them next time."